Friday, June 23, 2006

Heresies

Heresies is the sort of topic you blog about after someone's said something that has pi**ed you off. Like, royally. Sort of: What is wrong with what that person just said? It pivoted on something, I just can't tell what! And it's driving me nuts!

The Catholic Church is not much use, as I found out from googling "heresy." Sure, they have lists of heresies, all with cool Greek-sounding names, and most accompanied by at least one major slaughter or inquisitional cleansing. But virtually all of these have to do with incorrect perspectives on Jesus' true nature as defined by the Church, or incorrect perspectives on the role of the Church as defined by the Church. There isn't much about plain, vanilla heresy.

And that's the rub with heresies. Because a heresy by definition is relative. It has to be heretical to something. That something is usually a set of doctrines.

But what about just general heresies? Like, heretical to the sense of Jesus' teachings about the nature of God, or heretical to the collected wisdom of spiritual traditions?

This question made me sit down and clarify my notions of heresy in my own mind so that next time I am prepared to speak to them. What strikes me now is that heresy is often disguised in "orthodox" language, which sows confusion and helps imbed heresy into our culture.

Here are my eight heresies. You may be able to think of more.

1. God as Santa Claus

From "God's friends get rich" down to people who pray with shopping lists (I've met some), the people who ascribe to this heresy view God more as a servant than anything else. For them, spiritual life is a means of furthering self-centred interests. For example, going to church is a way of celebrating your good fortune of being "saved" and being chosen by God to be on the fast-track to heaven. God is a source of stuff. God always answers your prayers -- provided you pray them enough. The difficulty with this belief system occurs when God fails to give the stuff demanded. This heresy posits that God can be manipulated or controlled by prayer. God is a weak-egoed being in constant need of praise and adulation, a selfish God who simply ignores those who don't toady enough.

2. God as Bogeyman

This is the flip side of God as Santa Claus. Those who believe that God is Santa Claus for themselves generally also believe that God is Bogeyman for people not like themselves (e.g., for foreigners, for people of other religions, or even for their neighbours who dress funny). They pore through the bible to find curses to fling on others and promises to bless themselves. Belief in this kind of God means believing that God has enemies and that God hates. From this, believers of this heresy determine that they too can hate. They covertly celebrate the tragedies of others, such as diseases and catastrophes, saying, "I told you!" However, this God does not reflect the loving, forgiving, accepting God that Jesus described in the gospels.

3. God as Lord of Hosts

This is the very-old-testament view of God -- that God is a warrior who rains down punishments on enemies. This God is always on our side in a battle, never on the other side. LIke God as Bogeyman, this God has enemies -- our enemies. Unfortunately, this kind of God is useful for justifying any kind of vengeance, from genocides to honour killings. In effect, this God is a projection of our military hostilities and our desire for justification of violence.

4. God of the Gaps

This heresy developed after the theory of evolution became solid science and was hard to run away from. People would point out the "gaps" in scientific theory and declare that that was where God was. God accounted for the gaps in the scientific theory. One problem with this heresy is that it completely opposes science and religion: where there is science, there is no God; where there is God, there is no science. In effect, it also separated religion from truth, and replaced truth with beliefs. These dichotomies do not speak well for religion at all! They just turn God into a polite word for our own ignorance! Worse for this heresy is the lamentable habit of science to keep closing the gaps as new discoveries are made, such that this God always risks being squeezed out entirely.

5. God as Tylenol

In this heresy, God makes you feel good and takes your problems away. This is the "opium of the people" heresy that Marx was so familiar with. Woozy-headed people don't think, so they don't demand justice, peace, equality, or environmental protection. But because this feel-good sedation doesn't consistently occur in real life, the mere belief that it should occur is usually enough to keep people preoccupied with "trying harder" to get it. God as Tylenol combines well with God as Flag to create a very handy state religion.

6. God as our Concept of God

This is a anthropomorphic and semantic heresy, the hubris of thinking that God is what we think God is. In this heresy, God is a fixed, unchanging being and concept, framed by a fixed and unchanging set of words and images. By staking claim to those words and images, a religion can make God copyright. Then the people come to worship the words and images because of the copyright. In somes ways, this heresy is loyalty to the mistakes of the past. It's kind of like painting oneself into a corner with one's words, then realizing one is stuck in the corner and deciding to live there forever (instead of admitting it was a bad paint job and walking out through it).

7. God as Flag

I couldn't resist this one. Believe it or not, there are people out there who confuse nationalism with God's will. Yes, it's true. This heresy has been pumped by sharp politicians, who use it to justify war, exploitation, and arrogance. It's also linked with God as Santa Claus and God as Bogeyman. This heresy would regard the writing of the bible and the writing of the nation's constitution as approximately equivalent. It maintains that there is something holy about that nation's every action. It places patriotism above love, rugged individualism above humility, capitalism above justice, and consumerism above spiritual living. Yet, according to Jesus, the former are the things of Mammon, and the latter are the things of God.

8. God as Civilization

This heresy believes that what is primitive is Godless. This applies not only to First Nations and Wiccan spirituality, but also to nature itself. Through the din of modern life, people can no longer hear the whisper of the spirit of the trees; so people can end up believing that there is no whisper or spirit there. They become suspicious of anyone who claims there is. Religion to them can only exist in books, doctrines, and buildings. It can never be simple or otherwise attainable.

11 Comments:

At 11:24 AM, Anonymous Aj said...

Oooh: those are right on.

Miroslav Volf talks about a giving God in forms of Santa Claus and a kind Grandfatherly figure - one who thinks everything you do is wonderful, unless you mess up, and then he just pats you on the hand and tells you he knows you'll do better next time. I think you'd like his most recent book: Free of Charge. Very challenging look at a giving God.

I don't know what's more scary: looking at who we think God is or looking at who God *really* is . . .

 
At 2:25 PM, Blogger Zach A said...

...which leaves the burning question, What is God?

I like the "God as civilization" one. In fact I think you can make a pretty solid argument from the Old Testament that the authors see returning to a primitive state as the goal of right living:

1. In the beginning, we were hunter-gathers, unashamed of our bodies, and in unity with God. (e.g. Gen. 2:15-17)
2. When we stopped "minding the light", God departed from us; shortly thereafter we became agricultural (=civilized) and stopped hunting/gathering. (Gen. 3:17-19)
3. We can only return to our former state by a spiritual purification, as through fire. (Gen. 3:23-24)

I must say I'm a little uneasy about the word heresies though – a bit like "crusades" or "inquisition" used in a modern context.

 
At 6:01 PM, Blogger Richard said...

I can agree with you this time. It is a good set of definitions.

Perhaps it is already covered in your lists, but I find there is

God as Clique - which may be the same as your God of Hosts

and

The Accepted Christ - where it seems all you need to do is say soem magical incantation along the lines of "I hereby accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Saviour" and whammo, you are saved. That's it. Nothing more to do. Just watch those heathen burn.

 
At 6:11 PM, Blogger Nancy A said...

Hm - I like the Accepted Christ one. But what is the God as Clique?

it sounds a bit like what I used to call the "Heaven Club" -- all the "saved" friends I had at university who spent most of their time silently congratulating themselves for being chosen and the rest of their time being oh so nice (in a pitying way) to everyone else.

 
At 11:43 AM, Blogger david said...

I've been (re) reading theologian Stanley Hauerwas. He says (among other things) -- that Christianity through most of its history was a afith for people who couldn't choose their communities. Matters of faith were not choices we made. Heretics were a minority -- usually trouble makers (viewed from the perspective of the power-base at least). Today -- faith is seen as a choice. Participation in a faith community is also a choice. religion becomes more about feelings than social practices. consequently, today, heresy is the norm and not the exception.

Just fuel for thought.

 
At 12:12 PM, Blogger Richard said...

Heaven Club is a much better way of expressing the God Clique.

 
At 3:33 PM, Blogger Lynn Gazis-Sax said...

Oh, I love these. They're so much more meaningful than the usual list of heresies.

 
At 6:32 PM, Blogger david said...

How's this for a heresy? Courtesy of the Wittenburg Door.

 
At 8:13 AM, Blogger Sarah said...

ooh, I loved these, Nancy. Let's see if I can think of a few more . . .

The God of Complacency, who loves you just the way you are, so you don't have to change a single thing about yourself.

The Proven God. This is a God somewhat related to the God of the Gaps, and occurs in more literalistic circles. A series of facts or a logical argument is presented, and then the arguer says, 'Look! I just proved the existence of God!' The heresy here is that if God can be proven, she can be disproven, too, and there is no way God is a petty enough being that we humans can prove or disprove her. Like the God of the Gaps, this also leads to rejection of science, since advocates of the Proven God think that any science that contradicts their idea of God (Proven God and Concept of God go together very nicely) is trying to disprove God . . .

If you couldn't tell from the lengthy text, that's one of my personal least-favorite heresies.

 
At 7:53 PM, Blogger Timothy Travis said...

God as Santa Claus...I think that's pretty much what I mean when I talk about God as the cosmic vending machine...put in the coin of prayer and out comes your bike...or your own true love...or your new job...

Well done.

 
At 3:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOVE IS ALL THERE IS
EXPECTATIONS:
Did you expect bells?
Clouds?
Angels?
Expectations ruin relationships!
I do not expect anything of you!
So please reciprocate and place no expectations on me!
My purpose is simply to bring you home
To help you to re-member
with your Creator
with your Self

I am you
You are me
There is only one of us!

When you accept that
You are home!

How to?
First
Be your Self
Realise that you are created perfect
Because the Creator creates not imperfection
You have been conditioned by your society
To believe you are less than
Your Self
which some call the soul

Your only purpose
is
Soul-full
To walk the talk
of Soul-fullness
which is
to
express love
always
in
all ways
at
all times

When you do not
you know that
your ego is in control
some call it
satan

Pure
mythology
there is no
such thing
as
sin

You are as
you
were
Created
perfect
so
how
can
you sin?

Errors?
mistakes?
yes!

Life
is
about
choices
and
the law
of
cause and effect
whatever
you
feel
at
any moment
you
caused
it!

To
have
all
give
all
to
all!

You
are
an
expression
of
pure love!

That
is
all
that
you
are

So
start
behaving
like
who
you
are
and you shall
know
only
love
and
peace
harmony
and
happiness

Life is truly
only
a
state of mind!
I
was
going
to
say
God bless you
but
why
not
bless
your Self?
and
come
Home!

When was
your last
expression
of true love?

When
did
you
last
look
at
yourself
and
honestly
feel
unconditional
love
for
your
Self?

I
love you
every
moment
of
each
day

Why
then
cannot
you
express
the
same?

It
may
be
because
you
have
been
conditioned
to
believe
that
you
are
less
than
who
you
are

Your societies
your religions
all
paint
pictures
of
life
but
that
is
not
living

They
are
all
an
illusion

You
have
been
sent
many
Masters
and
most
of
you
have
denied
them
all

Recall
Jesus?
who
told
you
that
the
Kingdom
is
within
you?

Do you
know
what
that means?

It
means
that
you
are
the
Kingdom!

You
do
not
need
man-made
religions
to
prop
you
up
with
their
false
teachings
of
sin
fear
guilt
redemption
salvation

What
in
the
world
needs
salvation?

The world
you
live
in
is
an
illusion

You
are
committed
to
illusions

Of
time
materialism
push
a
button
turn
a
key
for
your
illusion
of
pleasure
happiness
life
itself

What
happens
when
you
push
the
off
button
turn
the
key
off
step
out
of
your
shiny
vehicle?
which
is
one
of
your
main
instruments
of
murder

Yes
murder
there
is
no
such
thing
as
accident
nor
coincidence

That
shiny
hunk
of
metal
kills
not
only
by
force
but
also
by
stealth
through
pollution
of
planet
Earth
in
particular
but
that
is
the
limit
of your
thinking

What
of
the
rest?

Do
you
think
that
atmospheric
pollution
stops
within
your
planets
atmosphere?

I
tell
you
this
It
never
stops

It
pollutes
the
universe
the
cosmos

It
is
not
only
your world that
is
polluted
doomed
yes doomed

Life
is
about
choices
and
you
make
them
every
moment
of
every
day

The Masters
are
out
there
by
the
thousands
endeavouring
to
guide
you

But
most
of
you
especially
most
of
your
politicians
ego
and
greed
driven
do
not
listen

Worse
they
do
not
care

The
piper
must
be
paid
will
be
paid!

What
are
you
really
prepared
to
do
about
it?

Have
you
ever
considered
the
additional
pollution
of
every
explosion
every
bomb
even
every shot?

Your
wars
your
killing
fields
are
just
another
expression
of
your
failure
to
practice
to
live
by
what
the
Masters
have
tried
to
teach
you

That
Love
Is
all
there
Is

Without
Isness
all
ceases
to
be
to
exist

And
yet
You
have
the
opportunity
still
to
change
all
that
is

To
stand
up
and
say
enough

But
time
is
running
out

The
one
you
have
called
the
Redman
tried
to
tell
some
of
you
long
ago
what
was
and
what
would
be
the
consequence
of
your
choices

A few more hours, a few more winters, and none of the children of the great tribes that once lived on this earth, or that roamed in small bands in the woods, will be left to mourn the graves of a people once as powerful and hopeful as yours.
The Whites, too shall pass - perhaps sooner than other tribes. Continue to contaminate your own bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.
When the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses all tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with the scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires, where is the thicket? Gone. where is the eagle? Gone.

And what is it to say farewell to the swift and the hunt, to the end of living and the beginning of survival? We might understand if we knew what it was the white man dreams, what he describes to his children on the long winter nights, what visions he burns into their minds, so they will wish for tomorrow. But we are savages, the white man's dreams are hidden from us.
Chief Seattle
Suqwamish and Duwamish
(1786-1866)

Truth
like
love
will
not
be
denied

I
shall
never
desert
you
I
shall
continue
to
speak
to
you
through
my
Masters
You
know
I
am
there
because
there
is
never
a
day
when
you
do
not
in
some
way
experience
me

I
cannot
be
denied

There
is
only
one
of
Us

Why
do
you
think
I
gave you
a
conscience?

Do
you
not
equate
the
two?

Conscious
and
conscience!

Yes
science
is
in
there
too

There
is
nothing
that
I
did
not
Create!

All
is
interdependant
and
all
is
one!

Who
am
I?

I
am
who
I
am!

You
have
always
known
that

Is
it
not
time
for
you
to
re-member
with
Me?

 

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